This muted, sad novel breaks down the distinction between the placed and the displaced, dissolving our sense of security, if we had one, about safely belonging in the world, dispelling our illusion of being at home. We are all adrift, Phillips says, whether we know it or not: a fact not of race or nationality, but of the human condition.
Rand Richards Cooper
Desperate, displaced people populate the latest from award-winning essayist, critic and novelist Phillips (Crossing the River; The Nature of Blood). Dorothy is a divorced retired schoolteacher with a troubled past and an increasingly precarious present, drifting further into depression and mental illness in the small northern England town of Weston where she has gone to flee the death of her sister and a series of reckless love affairs with married men. Solomon, in his early 30s, is a survivor of a war-torn African country, witness to events and atrocities almost too painful to recount, which include the execution of his own family. They meet in a small corner of England, given one last chance at redemption and belonging-this time with one another-before prejudice and brute violence destroy even that. Phillips crafts his novel with great skill, portraying his characters with a faithful eye that reveals their inner beauty as clearly as their defects. A true master of form, he manipulates narrative time (which skips, speeds and sometimes runs backward) and perspective to create a disjointed sense of place that mirrors the tortured, fractured inner lives of his characters. Phillips's vision is of a splintered, fragile world where little seems to have inherent meaning and love is opportunistic and fleeting. As Dorothy reaches her tragic end, she receives a visit from the husband who left her long ago for a younger woman; he himself has now been abandoned. The message of our inherent aloneness is clear. As Dorothy herself says, in a note to one of her married lovers: "Abandonment is a state that is not alien to man." The book expresses an even bleaker view: that abandonment is not only a risk, but our natural condition. (Oct. 19) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Two lonely lives intertwine in this haunting novel set in contemporary England. Dorothy has recently moved to a new subdivision in a small village after a forced retirement leaves her desperate for a new life. Solomon, an illegal immigrant escaping a violent past in Africa, is the night watchman at the subdivision. They form a cautious friendship despite the distrust and isolation each is experiencing in new surroundings. Because the narrative begins at the end, it involves frequent flashbacks, and at first the story seems disjointed and confusing. Once we learn about Dorothy and Solomon, however, we see how lost and resigned each has become to the harshness of the world, and we recognize that their only salvation lies in the fragile connection they have to each other. The award-winning author of Cambridge, Phillips has created a poignant and quietly powerful portrait of contemporary alienation. Recommended for larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03.]-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
An unlikely couple seek shelter from the brutal chill of northern English attitudes. Anglo-Caribbean writer Phillips (The Nature of Blood, 1997; The Atlantic Sound, 2000, etc.) continues to build his elegantly crafted collection of work about lives in, but not of, England, this time bringing a mentally ailing, forcibly retired music teacher into tentative association with an African political refugee. Dorothy Jones is a divorced, once-beautiful woman in her 50s whose increasingly erratic behavior gave cause for her dismissal as a schoolteacher. The elder daughter of a truculent working-class father and unprotective mother, Dorothy failed early on to lend vital assistance to her abused sister when she needed it, and was unable to enliven her marriage with the higher-class but ineffective banker who left her for a younger woman. A couple of ruinous affairs capping this dismal history have pushed her into near-madness. Now, her parents and sister dead, she lives alone in a new subdivision outside her childhood village where her only friendly neighbor is Solomon, the neighborhood watchman and handyman. A fugitive from bloody African political upheaval, Solomon has been even more brutally battered than Dorothy, but he is made of stronger stuff. Phillips backtracks to show Solomon's nightmarish stint as a rebel soldier and equally hellish escape to England and his painful steps to a new identity, assisted by an Irish truck-driver and his landlords the only kindly people in the forlorn surroundings. The success with this pairing of lives is mixed. Dorothy Jones comes perilously close in some ways to Blanche Dubois without the guts, but her surroundings are perfectly rendered, and Solomon isdrawn with Phillips's accustomed precision and depth, and, with the calm, cool understanding of the reality of racial foolishness, it's enough to tip the balance. Harsh and sad, but worth the trip.
“Provocative. . . . His novels have a way of . . . staying with you long after you’ve closed the book.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Rich and deeply affecting. . . . With the elegance and maturity of a prize-winning author . . . Phillips lives, breathes, and masterfully teases into prose the singular dilemma of the outsider.” –The Boston Globe
“A powerful contemporary fable about cultural clashes and individual yearnings . . . told with a cool restraint.” –The Baltimore Sun
“Compellingly readable. . . . Impossible to pull away from. . . . [Phillips] has demonstrated a remarkably fluent ability to inhabit characters whose perspectives on life differ radically from his.” –Los Angeles Times
“Astonishing. . . . Chilling. . . . A Distant Shore marks new heights in this author’s narrative accomplishments.” –The Miami Herald
“Suspenseful, atmospheric, adventurous.” –The Independent
“A devastatingly sad, powerful work of displacement, loneliness and racism.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“A page-savourer. . . . The plot is teased out with all the supple control of a superb craftsman in his prime. . . . A remarkable and penetrating novel.” –The Times (London)
“Graceful and dizzying. . . . A novel of failed grasps at redemption and horrors that reduce characters to madness, murder, and incoherent grief.” –The Christian Science Monitor
“A distillation of everything that makes Phillips’ work so impressive: lucid, deceptively simple prose combined with huge ideas and complex emotion. . . . Arguably his most accomplished work to date.” –Time Out (London)
“Intriguing. . . . Transcend[s] limitations of time and place. . . . [Phillips’] use of descriptive detail and subtle symbolism is achingly on point.” –Black Issues Book Review
“Just the sort of writing that reminds us how vital fiction can be.” –The Herald (Glasgow)
“Hums with ambition. . . . You can’t help but admire Phillips’ desire to explore . . . one of the great unexamined tragedies of our time.” –The Guardian